I’ve read a couple of Ms. Bowen’s columns in the Siskiyou Daily News, mostly for her emphatic position supporting the farmers in the Scott and Shasta Valleys. I am quite taken by her recurring closing paragraph on her garden. Would you guys be up for something like that? ‘Cause I can do that. I finally got my summer garden mulched. I like a hefty layer of straw, more or less a flake thick. Had to build new tomato cages this year. Went with steel welded mesh panels for concrete reinforcement. Bit of overkill, but I’m grateful for the height and seismic reinforcement. One can’t have too much ductility, says I. Put in mostly Brandy Boys, then some other frou-frou heirlooms. I can never be bothered to remember which ones.
I’m not afraid to say shocking things here, so here goes. I am done with cherry tomatoes. That’s right. Done. They’re just not worth the picking effort. Even Sungolds. Even Sweet 100’s. Yellow Pears are bland and pointless, always have been. Much as I love Sungolds, I am bored picking them. NO MORE. When there are children around, I understand growing a sacrificial moat of cherry tomatoes around the perimeter of the garden. But this year I’m not growing any. We can do a post-season analysis in October to evaluate this radical choice. I’ll admit my mistake, if that’s what it turns out to be.
The other thing that caught my eye in Ms. Bowen’s piece was this:
Fees to go up 700-fold
Another vital discussion for the POW agenda is the enormous increase in the watermaster service fee. At our POW board meeting last week, we voted to fight this illegal demand that will increase the fee for the simple service by seven times. This gigantic jump will affect the bottom line for our local ranchers, who, in most cases are just getting by. The problem is that the fee has been placed on property taxes and is now considered a tax. So while we figure out how to get out of watermaster service or find an alternative, the fee will go on property taxes starting July 1. If the fee isn’t paid, the county can add a fine and a lien will be placed on your property. …
… The fee is based on the amount of water one receives and John receives a significant amount of legally adjudicated water. His fee cost has been $1,430 and will increase to $8,400 a year – beginning this coming Friday. Lots of notice time!
…John and several neighbors will be petitioning the court to be released from watermaster service, but that will take time. Those who are not affected by this huge service fee increase may wonder why POW is taking such a strong stand against it. The reason: Once government agencies believe they can push the public around and will pay their wasteful budgets, this type of fee increase will escalate. Our government is too big. Taxes, fees and fines from increased regulations and laws are destroying the economy and our society. We must say “no more.”
Several aspects of this interest me. First, that she created a backstory to tie the fee into her perceived larger agenda. The watermaster fee to the growers in the Scott and Shasta didn’t come about because a government agency wants to grind the public under its heel. The fee reassignment was part of the governor’s May budget cuts. The state can’t raise revenues to continue paying for the watermaster service, as it has done for years, so as part of Governor Brown’s strategy of centrifuging costs out to locals, he sent that cost out to Scott and Shasta. The reason isn’t philosophical. It is only that a county still has the mechanism to collect taxes to support services and the state doesn’t so long as Republicans vote as a tax-denying bloc. You see the strategy elsewhere in the new budget. The Water Board isn’t paying for water rights and water quality enforcement. That is now paid for by rightholders and polluters. Fifty million dollars of firefighting will no longer be supported by the general fund. It’ll come from a home assessment on people living in high fire areas. The state cannot raise taxes, but watermaster service, pollution monitoring and enforcement, and firefighting still have to happen. So now these costs are borne by the direct recipients as fees.
This wasn’t done out for philosophical reasons about matching users to costs and making people internalize the costs of their way of life. It isn’t related to the new state emphasis on regional water management. It is a side effect of the state-level budget process. If our budget process weren’t so fucked, we’d likely keep subsidizing farmers and people who live in fire’s way, just as we have for decades. Nevertheless, differing taxation mechanisms at the state and county level are forcing this approach. Now that it is here, this differentiating taxation burdens by specific function (watermaster, firefighting, TMDL monitoring), do we like it? It is squarely in line with the “user pays” principle (or “stressor pays”). Those are proposed as ways to finance the Delta Plan.
Growers in the Scott and Shasta don’t seem to like internalizing their costs. Bleeding heart that I am, I kinda don’t like it either. I like to be part of a collective state and don’t want to fuss about making sure that everyone pays exactly what is owed. I’m more of a “split the bill evenly and it’ll work out over time” than a “figure out how many drinks each person ordered and who only got salad” person. Economists would counter about freeriders and tell me one more time that tying costs to uses more precisely would decrease economically inefficient behavior. Parceling costs and taxes out to distinct user categories is more in line with the Information Age and the ability to track lots of information more closely, so maybe it is a reflection of modernity.
My mind isn’t made up on this, dear reader. I am sure you will inform me in the comments. Good way for the state to pay its way and signal to taxpayers, or another step towards the dissolution of collective statehood into self-interested tribes? Cherry tomatoes or no?
LATER: Some editing for clarity. Apologies for posting that rough draft and rushing out the door.